April 26, 2017 Diane M. Byrne
Washington has become the latest state to modify its pilotage act, benefitting megayachts. Effective this summer, far fewer yachts will need a pilot onboard when entering the Puget Sound and Grays Harbor regions.
Previously, the law required small passenger vessels exceeding 500 gross tons to have a pilot onboard. Furthermore, yachts exceeding 750 gross tons needed pilots, too. The Northwest Marine Trade Association (NMTA) petitioned state legislators to raise both figures to 1,300 international gross tons. This resulted in a bill, introduced to the state House of Representatives in February. It passed unanimously on March 2. Days later, the state Senate took up the legislation for review. Senator Curtis King, who sponsored the bill, told his colleagues prior to the vote, “It’s a good bill, I think it’s a good economic bill.” The Senate passed it, 47-1, on April 4. Governor Jay Inslee signed it into law on April 20. It takes effect on July 23.
“Washington state continues to roll out the welcome mat for bigger boats,” comments Peter Schrappen, the NMTA vice president and director of government affairs. “This success build upon the expanded cruising season now available to entity-owned vessels before they owe an onerous use tax as well as improving these pilotage limits in 2012. While small in number, these vessels pack a punch when it comes to boosting local communities. We are hustling to get these boats here and have them stay here in the Northwest versus anywhere else simply because we have both world-class cruising grounds and a top-of-line workforce.”
Washington is not the only state to adopt more yacht-friendly regulations. Its actions come two years after Maryland revised its pilotage requirements, in fact. Prior to 2015, Maryland required foreign-flagged yachts exceeding 300 gross tons to hire a pilot to enter the Chesapeake Bay. The Marine Trades Association of Maryland (MTAM) was instrumental in convincing the pilots association and legislators to amend the rules. Jay Dayton, a member of the MTAM board of directors and vice president of the insurance company Avon-Dixon Agency, points out, “That’s a pretty small limit.” Furthermore, member marinas reported yachts skipping their facilities, citing the inconvenience of having to hire a pilot. The amended law permits yachts up to 200 feet or with a draft up to 12 feet to be exempt from having a pilot onboard. It applies both to foreign-flagged yachts as well as U.S.-flagged ones engaged in charter.
Related to this, Dayton says, the MTAM spoke with the pilots associations in neighboring Virginia and Delaware. “The ideal thing would be to get everyone on the same page,” he explains. Virginia ultimately amended its legislation, though it still requires pilots for charter yachts. Delaware, however, has not changed its law. It requires vessels of 100 tons or more to have pilots onboard, regardless of status.